BENEDETTI DIAMOND — Facing second-ranked Stanford wasn’t going to be an easy task for the University of San Francisco baseball team, and by issuing 12 walks and hitting a pair of batters, the Dons didn’t do themselves any favors.
It all added up to an 11-1 loss to the Cardinal on Tuesday afternoon, with the visitors putting up three crooked numbers to tilt the game.
“Fourteen free bases today by our pitching staff, and you can’t beat Stanford giving up two free bases,” said head coach Nino Giarratano. “It’s a struggle for us, and we needed to be sharper. We just weren’t able to throw strikes when we needed to. Some of that is intimidation, knowing we’re facing a good club with the wind blowing out. It affected our aggressiveness, but we just need to be more competitive in the strike zone.”
It didn’t take long for the Cardinal to flex their muscles as Will Matthiessen led off the second with a towering solo homer to left-center. Freshman pitcher Josh Mus was never able to settle down after that, hitting Andrew Daschbach with a pitch, allowing a one-out single to Duke Kinamon and walking Nick Brueser to load the bases. Fellow Bellarmine alum Nick Bellafronto hit a sac fly to make it 2-0, and Kyle Stowers’ two-run single doubled the lead for Stanford (21-5).
The Dons did get a run on the board in the bottom of the second as Nick Yovetich scored Robert Emery with a two-out double, but Riki Urata would ground out with men on second and third. The only other time San Francisco (18-14) would even get a runner to third came in the sixth inning, already down by 10. With Jacob Palisch on the mound to relieve Stanford starter Alex Williams, an Emery double and Jacob Munoz single to start the inning put men on the corners. Jacob Westerman struck out, Yovetich popped out and Matt Mendibles struck out to end the inning without a run crossing the plate.
If there was a positive for the Dons, it’s that they did manage to hold Stanford off the board over the final four frames, largely thanks to freshman Kasey Koppelmaa. The Colorado native did struggle with command, throwing only 32 of his 62 pitches for strikes and walking five, but he kept the Cardinal scoreless while he was on the mound before giving way to Joey Steele, who got the final two outs in the top of the ninth.
Things weren’t so good for Mollerus and the rest of the USF staff, as Grant Young gave up three runs in the fourth inning, two coming on Kyle Stowers’ homer to dead-center. Freshman Ryan Hecker only recorded one out in the fifth, letting two runs score. Benji Post came in to replace Hecker with the bases loaded, allowing two of the three runners he inherited to cross the plate on a Bellafronto double.
Still, the innings from Koppelmaa and opportunities the other freshmen received were a positive for Giarratano.
“Anytime we can get any of our young kids in there against this team, it’s good for us,” he said. “Stanford pushes you to get better and pushes you to make plays. Being able to put up zeros in the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth was a big deal for us.”
Considering that the Dons were limited in terms of pitching with Alex Pham and Julian Washburn forced into extended roles during the weekend series with Loyola Marymount, Tuesday was going to be a day with pitchers forced to throw a significant number of innings. The Dons also made their way through the game without an error, making a few strong defensive plays in the process. After Stowers’ homer in the top of the fourth, Urata made a tremendous barehand play on Maverick Handley’s grounder and threw the Stanford catcher out at first.
One off the other major positives to come out of the day was simply for Stanford to make the trip to Benedetti Diamond, something the Cardinal hadn’t done since 2008. The teams regularly meet at Sunken Diamond, but longtime manager Mark Marquess was reluctant to take his team to San Francisco.
“Attribute that to coach (David) Esquer,” Giarratano said. “They could play a lot of home games, and he was very humble and gracious to come here. It would be nice to have them here yearly, and hopefully we can play a little bit better.”
The loss dropped the Dons to 2-3 on their nine-game homestand, with Saint Mary’s coming in for three this weekend and Nevada paying a visit on Tuesday.